Posts tagged “problems with punishment

What About Deliberate Disobedience?


When I shared this quote on Facebook, one person agreed that “Punishment should not be used because a child has a problem,” but then asked “What about knowing, deliberate disobedience?”

My short answer to the question – Should deliberate disobeyers be punished? – is No, deliberate disobeyers need a problem-solving response, instead of a punishment, as much or more than accidental disobeyers.


Liam and Pearl

My long answer goes on to explore the power in problem-solving and the damage that results from punishment. To that end, here are –

Five Things to Keep in Mind when
Working with the Deliberately Disobedient

1ne – Value the Relationship
Positive change is built on a positive relationship. There is just no way around this. Throughout this blog I keep coming back to this point because it is difficult to overstate it’s importance. The more frustrating or difficult the problem behavior becomes, the more a positive relationship is needed. In other words, if a kid is deliberately disobeying there is more at play here than that moment of defiance. A positive relationship fosters trust within the kid, as well as fostering compassion within the parent or teacher. Trust and compassion are good things when it comes to problem-solving.


Brothers (2014)

2wo – Strengthen the Will, Don’t Break It
It is uncomfortable and frustrating to the parent or teacher who is working with a child who seems to knowingly disobey, but give the kid credit for having some kind of inner strength to do things his way, even in the face of potential trouble. Hear me clearly, I am not defending disobedience or trying to downplay it as no big deal. Disobedience needs to be confronted and children need to learn how to fix what they have broken, but how we go about this makes all the difference. Too often our actions seem to focus on breaking the will of the child, dominating him or threatening him into obedience, rather than helping the child become the master of his own will and decision-making ability.

3hree – Unplug the Power Struggle
When a kid disobeys it can be viewed as a direct assault on adult supremacy. Viewing obedience vs. disobedience issues through this lens creates a power struggle that always leads to the adult and the child being adversaries with very different goals and a bad relationship to boot. On top of this, the focus is now on the power struggle, rather than on the behavior that needs to be addressed.


Look at the camera, Charlie.

4our – Models Matter
A simple, but powerful truth is that – We must BE what we want our children to BECOME. If we want our children and students to be good listeners and good communicators who are able to say what they want in a way that keeps them connected to others, then we need to show them what that looks like. If we want them to be reasonable and self-controlled, even when things don’t go their way, then we need to show them how that works. The goal is self-government. Problem-solving is meant to help kids monitor their own thinking and feelings and to learn to effectively govern their own behavior.

5ive – Developmental Smarts
Child behavior, including teenager behavior, has more to do with developmental maturity than it does with deliberate rebellion. Keeping developmental factors in mind can make all the difference.

For Instance

Developmentally Challenged
Parents of a three year old are frustrated at him for being fussy and crying, thus preventing them from spending time with other families as an afternoon get-together stretches into the evening. At one point they even grab him firmly and tell him he better straighten up or they will give him something to cry about.

Developmentally Smart
Parents of a three year old would love to stay and visit longer with friends, but they recognize that his naptime was affected earlier and that it has been a long day for him. No resentment. This three year old needs to get home and ready for bed.


It’s not Pismo, but it’s close.

Developmentally Challenged
Parents of a five year old chastise him in a frustrated tone when he gets his Lego train stuff out to play, since it makes the house feel messy. “Can’t we just have the house look nice for a while?” they ask.

Developmentally Smart
Parents of a five year old set aside a play area for Legos and whatever else he wants to do. They talk with him about putting things away before getting a lot of other stuff out to play with, but it is rarely in a frustrated or angry tone. “This is now his house, too,” they realize, “and we shouldn’t make a federal case out of him wanting to act his age.”

Developmentally Challenged
A middle school teacher is sick of his students talking so much during class and decides to threaten and punish those who don’t obey his ‘be quiet’ directive.

Developmentally Smart
A middle school teacher is frustrated that his students talk so much during class, but recognizes the adolescent drive in them to communicate with each other. Rather than try to stop this powerful force in them, he decides to harness their talking energy and increase their learning at the same time. To this end, his in-class assignments often have partners or small groups discussing topics and completing tasks together. They still get to talk, they understand the topic better, and he doesn’t have to become a punishment ogre.


True, even when we try to be developmentally-smart, children will still test their independence and boundaries we create. The question, though, isn’t on whether or not we should confront the behavior and expect better. The answer to that question is always YES. The question is more about How do we confront the behavior and help the child to want to do better in a way that doesn’t harm our relationship? The answer to that question lies in problem-solving, not punishing.


The process by which a child or student is confronted due to inappropriate or unacceptable behavior and is assisted toward making amends and creating a plan for better behavior in the future. At the core of problem-solving is the desire to help another person effectively self-evaluate.

Pain or discomfort that is applied to a child or student who misbehaves, especially a student who is believed to have deliberately disobeyed, in the belief that the pain will prevent future misbehavior.




Some Things Hugs Can’t Fix

A Duke University study indicates that corporal punishment fosters anxiety and aggression in children, and that hugs afterward don’t remove these effects. In fact, the article states that “A loving mom can’t overcome the anxiety and aggression caused by corporal punishment, and her otherwise warm demeanor may make it worse.”


Such results would not surprise a person who believes in Choice Theory, which is based on non-coercive principles. Punishment is one of the deadly habits that harms relationships, influence, and performance. In other words, punishment strategies have a way of nurturing the exact behavior you are trying to eliminate.

Excerpts from the article include –

If you believe that you can shake your children or slap them across the face and then smooth things over gradually by smothering them with love, you are mistaken. Being very warm with a child whom you hit in this manner rarely makes things better. It can make a child more, not less, anxious.

Generally, childhood anxiety gets worse when parents are very loving alongside using corporal punishment. The researchers aren’t sure why, but it simply might be too confusing and unnerving for a child to be hit hard and loved warmly all in the same home. More severe punishment leads to more severe aggression and anxiety.

It is far more effective and less risky to us non-physical discipline. Discipline means “to teach,” not “punishment.”

43 countries have outlawed corporal punishment

Punishing shares the same mindset that fosters all of the other deadly habits. It is basically our desire to intimidate and to threaten put into action. These coercive behaviors all come from the same worldview. My personal belief is that intimidation has a similar effect on children when it comes to anxiety and aggression. As we attempt to change the behavior of our children by yelling, threatening, lashing out and punishing, they internalize this model and use these same behaviors when they want to change how a sibling or friend is behaving. The ineffective cycle is perpetuated.


Helping a toddler, or a child, or an adolescent become the best version of themselves involves patient instruction and when needed, compassionate confrontation. We need to explicitly describe and explain the needed behavior and hold the line on expecting it. Children need to be corrected when they are being unkind or bossy or too rough, but not just by yelling at them or threatening them. We assume that children, even toddlers, know what to do and how to do it, however I don’t think this is the case. Seeing my own grandchildren occasionally go into an emotional melt down over some perceived injustice (e.g. – bath issues, nap issues, food issues, have to be strapped into car seat issues, etc.), and then seeing my daughter patiently ask them to use their words to talk about their frustration, rather than acting out emotionally, is an example of this kind of instruction. Kids need to be taught the most basic skills and behaviors, and re-taught when they forget.


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